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|Three Days to Never
by Tim Powers
Published by William Morrow, 2006
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Highly Recommended by: Elliot Hanowski
When Frank Marrity gets an enigmatic phone call from his grandmother, telling him that she's burned down her garden shed, he and his twelve-year-old daughter Daphne head over to investigate. When they arrive, the shed, though decrepit, is still standing, while his grandmother has mysteriously vanished. Inside the shed they find a signed slab of concrete with Charlie Chaplin's hand- and foot-prints on it, a box full of letters from Albert Einstein, and some strange gold wiring sticking out from under the floor. There's also a TV and a VCR, and just before they are interrupted Daphne takes the videotape. Watching it later at home, she discovers that it contains a terrifying silent film that makes the room spin about her. And then things begin to burst into flame.
Oren Lepidopt is a devout Jew who works for a special branch of the Israeli secret services. Educated in the sacred texts of Judaism and the mystical Kabbalah, Lepidopt and his fellow 'Halomot' agents use both mundane and paranormal techniques in their work. They are tasked with tracking down the secret discoveries that Einstein considered more dangerous than the atom bomb too dangerous to share with any government. Also on the trail is a ruthless occult order known as the Vespers, descended from the Albigenses of Languedoc. Their symbol is the two joined cones of the Grail, symbolizing the future and the past, both opening up and moving away from the present. It is their ambition to find a means of altering the past, and thus achieve godlike power.
As is his usual practice, Powers takes unusual events from the lives of historical figures and imagines a secret history that would explain them. He also links his story loosely to The Tempest and mixes in biblical references, the Six-Day War, quantum mechanics, dybbuks, and the paradoxes of time travel. The treatment of this last topic is in some ways reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's Free Live Free, and Powers' take on destiny (or Providence) has some interesting points in common with Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog.
The story contains some truly chilling moments, interspersed with Powers' usual brand of wry humour (Daphne is particularly charming.) He remains as deft as ever at keeping his readers guessing. While I thought Frank Marrity's romantic involvement came together a little unrealistically, the decisions of certain other characters surprised me. I also felt that Powers did a great job of keeping up the tension by moving the story along at a compelling pace, a skill he's honed through years of writing complicated novels. However, as with Declare, there are a few sections in which people explain the back story through weighty speeches that seem out of character.
There are, of course, plenty of religious references in this book, drawn mainly from Judaism and the Hebrew scriptures, and there is a resurrection of sorts. The moral journey of the characters is not as openly spiritual as in Declare, but their dilemmas and choices do mesh with Jewish and Christian beliefs. The question confronting them all is: Do the ends justify the means? Is it acceptable to override 'common' morality if the rewards are big enough? In this regard the Vespers occultists are like the demon worshippers of That Hideous Strength, attempting to attain perfect 'objectivity' by recasting good as cowardice and evil as efficiency, but turning themselves into monsters in the process.
Powers hasn't lost his touch this is a memorable and thought-provoking book. (August, 2006)
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